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Friends, community members rally behind death of beloved coach

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MONROE COUNTY, W.Va. (WVVA) - Ben Thornton was born and raised in Monroe County. The ties binding him to this community were like no other. Thornton was not only a football coach and standout athlete but he was also a friend, a mentor and most importantly a father. Thornton died Sept. 19 after a courageous battle with coronavrius.

Many who knew Thornton or as some would call him "BFT", take time to reflect on the impact he had in his community.

"He was gifted in everything that he did. That extended to people as well. That's where the community is going to miss him the most, is that he truly cared about everyone and his community. He wanted to make it a better place and he left it a better place." said lifelong friend, Sam Brown.

"Everybody in his life considered him family and probably has for his entire life. That's the infectious attitude he had and the love for people and the love for life, kind of made you want to be part of him and bring him into your family. He was family to a lot of people." said friend, Jeff Disibbio.

Thornton graduated from James Monroe High School, playing running back for the Mavericks. He finished third in Kennedy Award voting in his senior year of high school. His talents took him to Concord University and he had a college career as a running back.

"When Ben took me under his wing and people realized that Ben accepted me because Ben had that much respect for his teammates. My time at Concord changed. So not only the impact that he has on the football field but just on the guys opinions. They took it and they respected what he said. I think that goes a long way." said Rusty Coeburn who met Thornton at the university.

Thornton started his coaching career with the peewee and midget football leagues of Peterstown and moved up to coach at his high school alma mater. This year he moved to Peterstown Middle School to coach, but molding young players is not the only thing he is admired for.

"Ben was family and a role model. Somebody that you could always count on, whether you were going through a hard time or somebody else was. I could be like "hey Ben, go see this kid" and he would talk to them and tell them what they needed to know or needed to do better at. Anything like that." said lifelong friend, Shari Walker Helvey.

He was not only a role model and phenom on the football field. Thornton was also musically talented, encouraging others to be as involved with music as he was.

"He pushed me to get on stage with him. Because of that we both went on to move to Austin, Texas. I've been in Austin, Texas since then and started my own band. I mean just as Sam said he pushed him to be a better person. He pushed me as well." said lifelong friend, Matt Ballengee.

Thornton's legacy is rich and varied. He'll be remembered as a great athlete, mentor, friend and most importantly as a father and family man. He leaves behind a wife and two children. Thornton was only 39 years old.

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Robert Castillo

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